A giant feat as Bonsai forest puts down roots in the West

IT was a removal job like no other and involved quite a major uprooting.

But now a whole forest of miniature trees have been successfully transferred to pastures new as their home looks set to be sold off.

Scotland's oldest collection of Bonsai trees - some dating back around 230 years old - has been painstakingly potted and packed off to new surroundings in West Lothian as part of a move part-funded by a donation from the Japanese Embassy in London.

The collection of 30 trees has been re-housed in a pavilion at Binny Plants, a horticultural nursery in Ecclesmachan, after leaving the under-threat Suntrap Garden at Gogarbank.

Masataka Tarahara, the Consulate-General of Japan in Edinburgh, will have the honour of cutting the tartan ribbon to open the new pavilion this weekend. Alistair Simpson, president of the board of trustees of the National Bonsai Collection, said the plants were transported in several trips using an open trailer and two vans.

"The reason we had to move was that the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which is involved with Suntrap Garden, is determined to sell it off and I couldn't take the risk of the plants not being looked after. So the move to Binny Plants was a very welcome one and I am very pleased with it.

"They have shown a willingness to make the best of the collection and given us a prime site within the grounds."

Around half of the collection will be exhibited at the new pavilion. The most prestigious trees are the centuries-old specimens that were bequeathed to the trustees of the collection in wills.

"These are key trees and always seem to catch the attention of the Japanese consul general and his wife when they visit, though we don't have the heart to tell him they're Chinese!

"The whole point of the national collection is that people should be able to see it," said Mr Simpson.

"The move has been happening gradually throughout the summer and has given us a chance to improve the pavilion and garden area.

"It was quite tricky to set out the pavilion because there has got to be a great deal of precision when transporting them and they have to be positioned so they can be seen at all angles.

And he added: "The great thing about Bonsai is that it's art and design married to horticulture.

"I think it's one of the prettiest forms of art and it's got the 'wow' factor.

"A significant part of having the national collection is to inspire but we will also have an educational purpose."

The Suntrap Garden had been run by Oatridge College since 1984 on behalf of the NTS. Its role was extended and it was used to train students with learning difficulties, becoming a Centre for Lifelong Learning in 2001.But faced with finding 750,000 for repairs, the college withdrew last year and Suntrap reverted back to the NTS.

However, the conservation organisation has crippling financial difficulties of its own and Suntrap, thought to be valued at around 1 million, is just one site it is looking to offload. A final decision is due next month.